CAB Minutes: April 2007
7 PM, Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
The New York Society for Ethical Culture
Members Present: Jenn Batterton, Alfred Friedland, Gina Fuentes Walker, Sallie Gouverneur, Dave Hall, Judy Hellman, Gideon Pollach, Inge Reist, Gary Schulze, KC Sahl, Ken Stewart, David Weinstock, Shawn Williams
Apologies: Dave Rahni, Ed Sawchuck, Alex Senchak
Absent: Emily Gertz, Nicholas Arture, Basya Weissman
WNYC: Shira Rosenhaft, Trustee Alan Weiler
Welcome – Public Comment
Sallie Gouverneur began by noting that members of the public outnumbered members of the board for perhaps the first time and she introduced herself. She then asked if members of the public present had comments.
One said that he saw the news article about money being donated to the station. Trustee Alan Weiler said, “It was a gift from the Jerome Green foundation. That particular gift was targeted for the performance center. And it’s part of the capital campaign.”
Another member of the public asked, “When was it decided that the public radio is to be inundated with sponsor’s mentions? And it is increasing in the proportion of other things that come on the air as the year goes by. That is added to the pain of the fundraisers. I really am very worried, because this was the precursor to WNYC, how it started how it became like WQXR. I would just like to know because at the same time the slogan remained that we are mostly listener-supported. Do the listeners ever ask about this change?”
Sallie Gouverneur responded, “There was not a specific moment when this change happened. But it has been a gradual thing as federal and city money is less and less available.” She then reminded everyone that once the station was sold by the city and so had to become self supporting, underwriting agreements and underwriting announcements are where a great deal of the funding has come from. They are an unfortunate but a necessary element of public radio. KC Sahl had offered to look into underwriting at our last meeting but had not yet talked with WNYC staff about this. He added, “We’re consistently asked about this so I was going to come up with a kind of script that fully explains the station’s opinion on it. We’ve heard from everybody, from the president to the board members to the staff members about their opinion on this matter. Everybody shares the concern. One thing that we can be assured of, I believe very strongly, is that the quality of radio is getting better and there is stronger reporting on a local level. We’re serving a broader audience and these things don’t come cheaply. They’re casting a wider net towards greater access to these resources.”
The same member of the public continued, “Wouldn’t it be more honest to call them advertisers instead of sponsors?”
Sallie Gouverneur said that other stations use a relatively similar format, and she knows it’s a fine line between selling whatever it is that the underwriter produces and making sure their name is mentioned. Unfortunately there were no station members present at the meeting tonight to give specifics on how time is spent. She thought everyone would be surprised by proportionately how little time is spent on these announcements compared to a commercial station. Sallie continued, “But part of our job is to pass on your comments and so your comments are being recorded and will be passed on and as KC said, it’s a continuing complaint. It’s one of the necessary evils of a public radio situation. My only response to your question though, which I really do think is a very profound one is, “why not call them advertisers? If you actually let them advertise then they would be advertising to you something that you are supposed to buy. And at least I know that is not exactly what they are doing. I think it’s a fine distinction.”
Alan Weiler added, “I might add also that advertisers like to have their own announcers and their own announcements and they like music and they like to push a product and they like to say all sorts of things about their company and their product. None of that is allowed. It’s only the on-air announcers that mention their name as supporters. Their products are not plugged.”
Another member of the public commented that she has an issue with the listener survey distributed at the meeting. She surveys non-profits for a living and she was troubled by the fact that nowhere on the survey did it ask “what it is what you like least?” or “What do you wish was off the air?”
Sallie Gouverneur asked if there was not a place where you can add comments. The listener clarified, “You can fill in comments, but it’s not the same as asking people what they don’t like. What do you wish was not on the air? Just as there is a concluding question you might want to consider in the future, What didn’t we ask you that you would like to tell us?”
In response to more discussion about the difference between advertising and underwriting announcements on-air, Sallie Gouverneur explains, “This is something everyone has an opinion about and usually it is negative. I think the more there is the opportunity during fundraising campaigns to let people feel that they can say something about the way the station comes across, the better. We discussed this in our last meeting and I think going forward the more opportunity there is to react to the way the fund drives are conducted and to give feedback on that, the better. The fundraising that the station does is what supplements the money that comes from the underwriters and the money we get from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We’ve been trying to make our profile higher so that you are aware of our meeting and it seems to be working, because at the beginning of the meeting you outnumbered us. And it’s been a long time since that was the case. So something is going well and that makes me happy.”
A different member of the public said, “Where are the activists among those of us that are listening to try and go back and get some federal money? The whole idea of public radio was originally that it was unsponsored. I think we let the government off the hook very similarly by laying back and trying to raise all the money ourselves. I was very taken by what you said about public radio. I’d like to see activists call on Congress people and Senators pushing for public funding for public radio. I travel a lot for my work and in every city I go to I try to pick up public radio and they’re all asking for money and getting all the sponsors. Then I listen to BBC and they don’t ask for money and they don’t ask for sponsors. They have government money.”
Alan Weiler explained that, “Not all the mentions of support are for people that are paying money. Some of them have contributed services. You’ll hear mentioned law firms. They provide services for nothing. And we mention their name as supporters and that is the least we can do for them.”
Sallie Gouverneur added, “I think for everybody it’s a scramble to put together a combination of funding sources as best they can. Maybe that’s another issue. I think the BBC has a unified voice because it’s coming from a central source. Public radio in this country is not unified; there is public radio in any number of major cities and then in many smaller areas, so it’s not exactly a comparable situation.”
Inge Reist, in reference to the earlier conversations said, that she thinks the station has not just rolled over. She adds that they are in restricted in that they cannot just go on air and say that the audience should write Congress. “The station and board are very activist in utilizing all the resources they have,” added Alan Weiler.
Gary Schulze pointed out that, “The current administration sees national public radio as the opposition.”
A member of the public remarked that she likes the program Fair Game. She finds the host very charming. Another member of the public disagrees, as they felt that Open Source, which had been taken off the air, had better material. She felt as well, that Fair Game is transparent in its attempt to target the youth market and not up to the standards of the station.
Gina Fuentes Walker had asked the assistant programming director about the changes. It is trying to appeal to a younger demographic. One advantage of feedback for this show is that they are requesting the entire content of the emails, unlike other shows which they only ask for excerpts.
A member of the public commented that they listen to WNYC 20 hours a day and don’t listen to Fair Game, finding the program distasteful. It was specifically intended to appeal to a late twenties demographic according to a study from Salt Lake City mentioned by Gina Fuentes Walker.
Judy Hellman asked, “Did you get a sense of what sort of feedback the station received to date through Listener Services?” Gina Fuentes Walker reported that it steps out of what people were used to listening to at that time of day.
In response, Judy Hellman asked, “Do you have a sense of what kind of positive feedback they are getting about that show?” Ms. Walker last checked in late March about listener comments and reported that most comments were just about the changes.
A member of the public stated that the show sometimes had very interesting interviews, though when they first heard the show they heard a lot of teenage giggling, which was off-putting. Gina Fuentes Walker found this ironic because the host is in her mid to late thirties and just happens to sound young on the radio.
Sallie Gouverneur said that in summation the CAB will record the comments of the public, as well, and encouraged those with issues to contact Listener Services, as their comments can be lengthier there.
The Sound of Young America
Sallie Gouverneur said, “I’ve put on the agenda one show we hadn’t heard about, The Sound of Young America, because we've been talking about programming for youth and because the station has promoted it so heavily. ” Inge Reist liked the spot for it, though she didn’t think that it sounded like ‘young America.’ She felt it was hardly going to attract young America. KC Sahl added that he felt The Sound of Young America is “a bold name.” and it seems that they made fun of themselves by using that name. He didn’t understand why the station chose to promote to such a degree. He wouldn’t turn it off and wouldn’t search it out either. He felt it was just ok.
Judy Hellman added that “Fair Game and Sound of Young America are two programs that seemed to be a transparent attempt to appeal to a younger demographic. The common denominator is if aiming for a younger audience it is with humor, whether that takes the form of self deprecation/giggling/ hosts seeking validation. Whereas Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me is a humor program done with intelligence and wit in a way that neither of those two are doing. I find myself tuning AM off at 8 and avoiding FM at 6 pm.”
Shawn Williams wondered if older listeners are supposed to like this new programming. She’d like to see if it is appealing to a younger demographic. Sallie Gouverneur reiterated that in the case of Sound of Young America, the CAB has to do their homework.
David Weinstock asked, “How many of you have heard more than two?” Judy Hellman was the only one who had.
Jenn Batterton asked if maybe the title of the show is a “misnomer…The sound of America when IT was young.” Dave Hall concurred, pointing out that the spot has a fifties musical feel to it. Judy Hellman said she sees trouble anytime a show asks, as it does in the spot, to be judged harshly.
Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me
A member of the public said that they “don’t like it.” David Weinstock asked why. The member of the public said that it was too silly. Dr. Weinstock said that he thinks that’s exactly why people like it. Inge Reist added that it is derived from the British model; it is in that realm of silliness. Another member of the public says that though “WNYC is just great, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me is unbelievable.” She said she could listen to that one show 24/7. Judy Hellman asked, “What is it about the show that appeals so much?” The speaker continued, “It grabs you, and above all it’s irreverent. What we look for is legitimate irreverence. It does so without being obscene. That’s such an important message.” Inge Reist added that “It uses English language in such a sophisticated way.”
Sallie Gouverneur asked for an opposing point of view; KC Sahl declared that it’s not his favorite. Shawn Williams said, “I do really enjoy WWDTM, I find it silly. There is a sense of one-upmanship.” She added that while she finds this funny, she doesn’t know if it would be attractive to younger listeners. There are segments with Yo Yo Ma, and unless you know a lot about classical music, this might not be amusing.
Sallie Gouverneur asks for a vote about the show; KC Sahl observed that if the vote was yes/no, he would say no, but he also never turns it off. Sallie Gouverneur said that typically votes were yes/no, thus Sahl voted no; otherwise the vote would have been unanimously in favor.
Dave Hall said he felt that since the loss of Margaret Juntwait the program seemed somewhat aimless; he questioned one instance in which snippets of sound lifted out of context from an interview on another WNYC program seemed an obvious plug for the station. He observed he thought WNYC hasn’t decided what they want. Sallie Gouverneur wondered if the program was still a work in progress.
Dave Hall feels that the show is trying to get direction; he did not think it feels as secure.
Sallie Gouverneur asked if anyone else had comments.
Gideon Pollach reported that he listened more when Margaret was on, it felt a more compelling program. David Weinstock said he was not a classical music aficionado;
Gideon Pollach said he loved the modernist music on the program.
Shawn Williams reported that recruiting is moving along well, interviews would take place in the following two weeks and the process would move forward as indicated in previous minutes. Sallie Gouverneur asked if there are as many candidates as needed. Shawn Williams replied that there ten applications were being considered.
Sallie Gouverneur talked briefly about the status of the CAB member handbook, Ken Stewart had a question about the status of the handbook for new members; he felt he had not received one because the one he received had what he felt was limited information. Jen Batterton has volunteered to compile ideas for the update of the handbook, and Ken was encouraged to work with her.
Youth Outreach Subcommittee Report
Judy Hellman on Youth Outreach: This year the CAB organized a youth outreach committee. "We’re defining youth as individuals between 8 and 21, looking into attracting youth and Media literacy programs. Our committee had two meetings to review survey of Public radio initiatives and a meeting with those in charge of the Radio Rookies program to answer some questions. We decided based on last meeting that we’ll present our findings in June. She says the committee is likely to make four specific recommendations. She suggests that a Youth outreach workgroup be formed with members of staff and public; that the station hire consultants to advise on additional programming and outreach for the station; that there be a focus on media literacy programming, looking to what exists in New York City, and thinking about how it can be packaged as a vehicle for educators in schools to engage young people.
Station Move Status
Alan Weiler announced that construction on the new station offices has started. The projected date for the move is late summer or early fall. It is just the beginning of the process. He also added, for a member of the public who asked, that the new home of WNYC will be at 160 Varick Street. Sallie Gouverneur offered that there will be extensive public performance space on the ground floor, which is “really spectacular” and that we can conduct CAB meetings there if the new public space is not in use.
Fall 2007 Meeting Venues
The CAB may continue to meet at the Ethical Culture Society until the new space is available; Ken Stewart said he felt that the Ethical Culture Society has “horrible acoustics.” Jenn Batterton brought up the issue of themed CAB meetings, and asked what the status was with having meetings in places like the Center for Architecture.
The performance space will not be open until later in the year, so really the issue at hand is the first four or so meetings of the new CAB cycle. Inge Reist asked, “Why change venue for four meetings?” Gideon Pollach suggested a possible new meeting venue at St. Bart’s. There are possibly better acoustics, but then there is the question of meeting in a non-secular venue, though Mr. Pollach assured everyone that St. Bart’s houses meetings for secular organizations. He said he would look into it.
A member of the public says that they always knew meetings were at the Ethical Culture Society, and asked why they would be changed for only a few months before a new permanent place is found.
NJ Outreach Meeting - Theme, Advertising and Promotion
Sallie Gouverneur says that the CAB needed to talk about the imminent New Jersey outreach meeting. There will be a “very good collection of speakers," including the CEO and President of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Chief of Governement and Public Affairs of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a local historian from with a narrated photo presentation of Newark Harbor, and a representative from the State First Aid Council in New Jersey to talk about volunteerism in NJ. Unfortunately Alex Senchak was not present to give his update on the organization of the meeting. The Newark Star- Ledger will be running an ad, and the station would run a spot announcement based on our recommendations.
Sallie Gouverneur gave listeners from the public a final chance to comment. One member of the public commented that they felt that it’s not easy to find details about the Community Advisory Board meetings on the website.
As well, two issues were raised about programming. The first is with Radio Rookies, which a member of the public finds “intolerable and unspeakably awful.” Additionally, they think that News and Notes has never been up to par and occupies a really good timeslot. Judy Hellman asked specifically what seemed intolerable about Radio Rookies. The member of the public said that the kids have grating presentations and that it runs too long.
Another member of the public asked what is going to be done about the issue of limited range for the AM signal in the evening. Judy Hellman explained that it is the nature of AM radio. From the public, came the question, “Why does it drop?” Ken Stewart answers that it is required by the FCC. When the listener objected to the idea of the FCC requiring the signal to be reduced and asked what the CAB would do about it, Sallie Gouverneur explained that the CAB is a voluntary board without the power to change FCC regulations. She suggested that if someone felt strongly about it, that person should write to the FCC.
Sallie Gouverneur called for one last question. A member of the public asked, “Do you know when WNYC will be on HD?”
Sallie Gouverneur explained they are broadcasting a 24 hour classical music program on HD now, which you can get online or with an HD radio. Alfred Friedland warns, “The technology is also in flux. HD is not conclusive as the end-all of radio.”